The latest Metroid adventure focuses on what's going on inside the suit as much as outside of it. Will it work?
First announced at last year's E3, Metroid: Other M is a highly anticipated third-person action/adventure game, the result of a collaboration between Nintendo and Team Ninja of Ninja Gaiden fame. At the Media Summit, Metroid: Other M was shown inside of a private booth. This was a good decision since Other M is a cinematic experience unmatched by prior entries in the series. Other M begins immediately following the events of Super Metroid. In fact, the introduction video recounts the last moments of that game in gloriously rendered 3D.
Spoiling that ending not only provides some epic visuals, it is essential to the story line. To quickly recap, during Metroid II, a baby Metroid hatches and believes Samus to be her mother. Samus takes it back for study. In Super Metroid, Space Pirates steal the Metroid. In the final battle with Mother Brain, Samus is nearly defeated, but the Metroid transfers the energy of Mother Brain to Samus. Mother Brain kills the baby and Samus subsequently destroys Mother Brain. Samus then wakes up in a medical facility. Apparently, she had been dream-recalling about the event with Mother Brain and the Metroid.
Following this, the game begins a training simulation where Samus's doctor helps her recall (trains you to use) her basic attacks. Surprisingly, the game is controlled only with the Wii Remote held in NES configuration. Running and jumping work as you'd expect and work well. Shooting involves an automatic lock on that works as long as you're pointing relatively in the same direction as the enemy. Given the D-pad control, this is pretty necessary. The A button is used to switch into Morph Ball mode. Samus has a few new cool moves – pressing a direction just before getting zapped allows Samus to roll out of the way. She can also jump on the heads of injured enemies to kill them with style. Overall, it's what you'd expect out of Metroid in 3D space, though it's not too 3D since you'll be travelling down a lot of narrow corridors.
Pointing at the screen with the Remote switches the game into a first-person view. Here, Samus can scan as in Prime (though there wasn't much to scan in the demo) as well lock-on to targets and shoot missiles. First-person view is a little jarring if you're used to the Metroid Prime games. In first-person, Samus can only look around and shoot; she can't move.
This Samus appears much more emotionally troubled than her depiction in other games, aside from Metroid Fusion, and in fact this game will likely tell the backstory of that game. Samus keeps repeating "the baby" in reference to the Metroid that sacrificed itself for her and reflects how it is gone forever. Following a briefing with the Galactic Federation, Samus leaves in her ship and picks up a distress call. A so-called "baby's cry," Samus makes it her mission to investigate. I can't help but think of Claire from Lost screaming about her baby. That's not exactly the bounty hunter I've pictured in the past.
Samus reaches a Bottle Ship, where she finds that a Federation vessel is already on scene. The Army can't get into the facility because of a blocked door and they do not want to use explosives. Samus opens the door with a missile. In her first mission, Samus teams up with Adam Malkovich's team of soldiers from the Federation Army. This would be the Adam that sacrifices his life to save her. At the beginning, Adam does not trust her, telling his team that she is an outsider. She was a part of this team before she became a bounty hunter, the result of a falling out, which will undoubtedly be explained later. In previous Metroid games, Samus often loses all of her weapons at the beginning and must recollect them. A little more cleverly designed here, Samus actually has all of her weapons, but Adam only slowly gives her authorization to use them, trying to create as little damage as possible until it becomes necessary. A major plot point will likely involve Samus's reactions to taking orders.
The station didn't have a lot going on; it seems designed to get you up to speed with Metroid mechanics. There are several throwback enemies from the previous games. Showing a Ninja Gaiden influence, combat is faster paced than the 2D games often with swarms of enemies, perhaps closer to Metroid Prime in third-person. The Metroid feeling was definitely intact, with items hidden in plain sight in certain areas made inaccessible until a particular restricted weapon can be used.
In the first boss battle, Samus teams up with the soldiers to destroy a tentacle monster. As the soldiers use freeze guns on a particular spot of the enemy, you must switch into first-person mode to target a missile at the spot. This is the first of two battles where players are forced to quickly switch back and forth between the two modes: you can't shoot missiles in third-person, and you can't move to avoid damage in first-person mode. While the switch-off is doable, it seems this mechanic could have been avoided entirely by using a Remote and Nunchuk combination. That is, the control is good, but frustration is sure to increase with the intensity of enemy attack.
One major non-gameplay concern I had is with Samus' voice actress. She really doesn't convey any emotion even though the dialog is filled with it. Unfortunately, it sounds like the voice work is done, so we're stuck with a female Ben Stein.
While I'm not completely sold on the switching control design, and I'm guessing some fans will be up in arms over the portrayal of Samus, I have little doubt that this will be a great game. A lot of effort has clearly been put into the cinematics and story-telling, but the gameplay hasn't suffered. The attention to detail is impressive, and the addition of Ninja Gaiden-style action with Metroid-style exploration should be a lot of fun.